At his Knesset press conference on Monday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman did his best to paint his breakup with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as purely ideological.
He kept mentioning his differences with Netanyahu on how to handle Hamas and saying that he and the prime minister had a right to different opinions and approaches.
After the press conference, the MKs closest to Liberman said that by splitting Yisrael Beytenu from the Likud, he would now have an easier time advancing his right-wing agenda.
But the reporters at the press conference were unconvinced. Political? Probably. Personal? Definitely. Ideological? Doubtful.
Let’s start with political.
A Panels poll broadcast on the Knesset Channel on Thursday found that Likud Beytenu had fallen in support. The votes shifted to Bayit Yehudi, which would rise from 12 to 18 seats.
Another poll found that, running on its own, Yisrael Beytenu would win only five seats. Liberman wants to be ready on the Right to receive the votes of right-wingers frustrated with Netanyahu, especially voters who are not Orthodox and, until Likud Beytenu officially broke up, had nowhere to go.
The Likud Beytenu bond that Liberman hoped could help him become prime minister had become a political burden.
By painting Netanyahu as soft on Hamas, Liberman could repent for the left-wing stances he took recently when he released a diplomatic plan calling for normalization with Arab countries and when he praised US Secretary of State John Kerry.
With Liberman, personal considerations must also be taken into account.
His relationship with Netanyahu has rapidly deteriorated in recent weeks. The prime minister embarrassed Liberman by endorsing President- elect Reuven Rivlin behind his back, hours after they had decided to work against him.
Netanyahu used the Likud Beytenu bond, which was supposed to empower Liberman, to marginalize him while the prime minister made decisions with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Then came Sunday’s cabinet meeting, when Netanyahu could not restrain himself from attacking Liberman personally in front of all the other ministers.
You can kid with Liberman. He has a good sense of humor, which Netanyahu lacks. But you cannot humiliate him. Netanyahu paid the price.
Let’s go back to ideology.
If Liberman is right that Netanyahu is soft on Hamas, that certainly paints a picture of the prime minister that is different from the way he is portrayed in the foreign media. If the message of the foreign minister is accepted by the world, and the word hard-line stops appearing before Netanyahu’s name in the international press, perhaps the Likud Beytenu breakup will end up helping Israel’s image abroad.
But that won’t happen if the foreign press is as convinced as the local media at the press conference that Liberman’s decision was anything but ideological.